Tag Archive: language

Nov 29

Is this racist?

You may remember I’ve written a couple of posts about the excellent Horti Fruti adverts that show up from time to time on the metro. The format tends to be an illustration of a fruit or vegetable in the place of some human character with a caption that plays on either the name or the origin of the item in question.

Take a look at the latest one:

 

Horti Fruiti Kung Food

Couve Chinesa is what we in the UK call Chinese Cabbage. The caption says “I am the master of Kung food”. Except that’s not exactly what it says…

 

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Nov 25

The invisible language barrier

After waiting in the slow-moving supermarket line for 15 minutes, I finally found myself at the check-out – this was my moment. The girl had scanned all my items and I could see from the screen that I had to pay R$65 – no problem, I had my money ready. Then: disaster! She was asking me something but I had no clue what she was saying. It was clearly a question, but what did she want? She asked it again, a little louder this time and I could sense that the people behind me were all looking over now.

Panic set in, my heart rate increased as my mind desperately tryied to formulate a response. The section of my brain marked Portuguese seemed to have shut down and so my mouth just opened and closed like a goldfish!

Extra Supermercado

The scene of many a stressy moment – the checkouts of ‘Extra’.

 

What felt like minutes was probably over in 10 seconds. She shook her head, shrugged and muttered something while taking my money. I hurriedly gathered my shopping bags, desperate to get out of the oppressive atmosphere. As I walked quickly towards the exit, she shouted to me again – by now I just wanted to run, but I looked back to see that she was waving my change at me. “Idiot!” I said to myself as I walked home, humiliated.

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Nov 23

Should I say Favela or Comunidade?

In a recent post I looked at the sensitive subject of favelas and described some of the ways that you can get into trouble when talking about them. But did you know that even the name can stir controversy?

The term favela has an interesting history. Back in the 1890s, various Brazilian forces fought a series of escalating battles with a group of 30,000 settlers in Canudos, a remote town in Bahia. The settlers were led by a charismatic mystic named Antônio Conselheiro who had spent much of his earlier life wandering the north-east of Brazil and picking up followers along the way.

Time and again, government forces underestimated the strength of the Conselheiro’s followers, suffering a series of humiliating defeats. Eventually the Minister of War got involved and sent a huge, well-armed force which utterly destroyed Canudos. It is said that more than 15,000 inhabitants were killed (many civilians were slaughtered after the initial resistance was stamped out).

 

the favela plant Cnidoscolus phyllacanthus

This is the Favela Plant (Cnidoscolus quercifolius), common in Bahia and other semi-arid areas of Brazil. It has long spines, it is a skin irritant and has similar effects to cyanide when eaten! An appropriate namesake for such a prickly, difficult, even poisonous topic.

 

When the massacre was complete (1897), the soldiers made their way to Rio. When they were recruited they had been promised housing in return for victory, but when they arrived in the capital they got a shock.

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Oct 24

Popcorning!

Some time ago Mrs EatRio and I were cooking up something delicious in the kitchen (prawn and lemon risotto since you ask). As I was getting the drinks I said “Would you mind spooning the risotto out into those those bowls?”

Her reply surprised me. Instead of the usual “Yes chef!” that I expect and demand in my kitchen, she asked incredulously “Spooning? I can spoon something out? I love how almost anything can be a verb in English.”

It wasn’t something I’d ever given much thought, but now that she had mentioned it I felt a warm glow of pride as if somehow I was responsible for the remarkable versatility of my native tongue. I excitedly blurted out “You can ladle out soup too! You know, using a ladle!” and waited expectantly for her amazed reaction to this new linguistic revelation, but instead she replied with a barely interested “Oh…” and I realised that the magic of the moment had passed…

More recently I stumbled upon something which shows that Portuguese can play that game too.

Popcorn

This is popcorn. In Portuguese it is pipoca. Image source

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Oct 20

Differences and Similarities

After publishing yesterday’s post, it occurred to me that there was some irony to the fact that I spend so much time highlighting the things that make Brazilians distinctive, yet when (some) Brazilians finally agree (“only in Brazil”), I go and say that they’re actually the same as the rest of us!

It got me thinking about how we view our differences and similarities and how language affects our perception of what someone is saying. People generally feel positive when you highlight differences with words like interesting, distinctive and unique but feel negative about words like oddstrange and weird. The flip-side of this linguistic coin comes when you highlight similarities: normal, consistent, dependable are positive, but generic, homogeneous, conventional might not sound so good (-”What do you think of my new shirt?” -”Wow! It’s really, er, generic…”).

Thinking along these lines, I remembered something I saw a little while back:

English Drink Beer not lager


 This is an excerpt of a speech given in 1965 by a Dutch physicist, Hendrik Casimir, in which he describes the way that English speakers (particularly the English!) find differences where others look for the similarities. Also, sorry to be a nerd, but don’t you just love that old typeface?

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Aug 07

The end of the market!

People have different tolerance thresholds for mess and untidiness don’t they? For some people, the limit is a little dust on the shelf and a couple of dishes in the sink. Others will live quite happily with mould growing on half-finished cups of tea sitting under their bed (naming no names!).

bagunça

Has someone been watching too much TV? Source

 

Some people who know me may be surprised to hear that in our house, I’m the tidy one. This is annoying as it means that in ‘The Cleaning & Tidying Game’, I always crack first. But not without a little complaining first!

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Jul 23

How to avoid looking like a gringo

The word gringo is an interesting one. It exists in both Spanish and Portuguese and generally means foreigner. In some places it refers specifically to someone from the US, but in Brazil it basically means any foreigner. That said, it isn’t an exact science – someone from say, Japan, for instance can be called a gringo (gringa for a female), but in general the term fits better for Europeans and North Americans.

The origins of the word are also open to some discussion. Several Brazilians have told me that the term evolved from the English expression Green Go (this being either a call for foreign armies, generally dressed in green, to leave the country, or an observation that when foreigners arrived in the Amazon, the green (trees and other valuables) was taken away.

The reality is far more likely to be that it came from the Spanish word for Greek, Griego – someone speaking a language that isn’t understood. As in “it’s all Greek to me”.

 

gringo shirt

It’s like you’re walking around with a sign that says gringo… Thanks to Fly Brother for the image!

 

But what is the real meaning behind this word? Should you be offended if someone calls you a gringo? Is it a sign of falta de respeito (lack of respect)?

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Jul 11

My favourite word in Portuguese

Back in 2009 when I was planning my 4 month (ha!) trip to South America, I started taking Spanish lessons. Back then there were no plans to visit Brazil and so Spanish was the obvious choice. A couple of friends and I found a lovely teacher and we would spend a very enjoyable hour each week having lessons. After a few months we were discussing how the lessons were going, what we thought of Spanish as a language, what we liked about it and so on.

portuguese words

Words, words, words…

 

My favourite word in Spanish

At some point a question came up: What’s your favourite word in Spanish? I hadn’t given it much thought before, but I knew my answer immediately:

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Feb 06

Learning Portuguese, Losing English.

I arrived in Brazil just over 18 months ago and during that time there have been some major challenges. Finding a job, getting married, obtaining my visa, finding an apartment and finding some friends! But the biggest challenge has been learning the Portuguese and dealing with communication difficulties.

I’m not only talking about the obvious issues of struggling to understand the locals and struggling to make myself understood. There are other things that I have also found difficult/testing. I am always being asked “So, how is your Portuguese?” – I honestly don’t know how to respond to this anymore! Even worse is the performing monkey routine: “This is Tom. Yes, he speaks Portuguese! Go on Tom, say something in Portuguese for them!” – I realise, of course, that all these issues would go away if I just improved my Portuguese!

 

And it is slowly improving. I mean, the pace is glacial, but nevertheless I’m getting better and becoming more confident. But now I find there is a new problem emerging.

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Dec 17

Is it better not to speak Portuguese?

Recently I was reading the blog of an expat and they were summing up the good and bad points of living away from their home country and then also looking at what it felt like to return. One point that particularly interested me was the returning to a country where everyone speaks your language isn’t always that great. Sure we all get a little tired of the language barriers when we’re ‘away’, but when you go ‘home’, you have to get used to understanding everything that everyone says.

Yes. Yes I am still complaining. And so is everyone else apparently.

 

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